Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Final Journal Entry

The following is excerpts from my final journal entry in Malekula. It was also my last journal entry in Vanuatu, because upon returning to Port Vila, I became sick, and didn't recover until a couple of days after I returned to Sydney. The excerpt has been heavily edited for personal reason, but it gives you an understanding of what I was feeling.

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006
This is the last morning that I can wake up legitimately say that my clothes smell like campfire because I spent last night frying lap-lap in the fire for the 1st Annual (likely to not be repeated) YCI Lambubu Yam Festival. (Yam Festival because we have nothing else to eat.)

Time to go help pack. . .Okay, and go drink my coconut. . .

More Pictures from Lambubu, Vanuatu

Good luck to all the YCI volunteers who are headed to Vanuatu this week! I know you'll have a great time.

And now for some random pictures:

One of my personal goals while I was in Vanuatu was to get over my fear of children. Near the end of our time in Lambubu, we were asked to either sign up to work at Children's Day or Sports Day. Well, since my other goal was to get over my fear of sports, I decided to challenge the two fears combined. This is Tara, Dave and I giving out ribbons at the end of the day (Samuel was also working at Sports Day, but he's missing from this picture.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Facilities: Infrastructure in Malekula, Vanuatu

Alright, I'm kind of running out of thematic posts at this point in time, but I've gotten a couple of e-mails this week asking about facilities. Before I give you the photographic tour of Amelatin Station aka Lambubu, let me fill you in on a little history (as I understand it):

Lambubu is not a traditional Vanuatu community. In fact, it exists because of the cocoa plantation, and was built as a place for the cocoa plantation workers to live. Most of the infrastructure was built by the company that owned the plantation and established it in the '80s. This is why you'll notice that in photos from Laravet (where my host-family lived) their homes are primarily thatched-hut type dwellings, whereas in Lambubu the buildings are closer to what we would recognize in North America. Our home itself is usually used as a barracks.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Kava Queen and The Unfortunate Kava Incident

“You like kava?” my host-mom Kathy asked me early one Sunday morning, kneading a mixture of bananas and coconut milk in preparation for our lunch. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my host brother eagerly waiting for my response. I quickly realized that this wasn’t a question-- it was an accusation.

“Only a little bit,” I told them, lying through my teeth.

Erin trying kava for the first time in Port Vila. She wasn't impressed.

My mom began kneading the mixture in front of her harder. She was not impressed. Even with my rudimentary knowledge of Bislama, I had no trouble understanding my host mother’s words. “I don’t like kava,” she told me in the pidgin language. “It’s no good. Women shouldn’t drink kava.”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Construction Pictures: Building a school in Vanuatu

Oh, right, remember that one time I was actually in Vanuatu for a reason other than to chill with my awesome ni-Van family, eat some strange food, and play endless games of Scrabble?

I was going to write about being female on a construction site in a patriarchal country, but maybe I've decided to save that for another time. Instead, here's some pictures. This is Tara and I on Day 1. Tara doesn't know it yet, but about two minutes after this picture is snapped, the side of the trench is going to cave in, and she's going to fall down the hole. The men on the construction site are about to be horrified, and the looks on their faces after the incident will clearly read, "We're letting these women work with us for a month?"

Friday, October 27, 2006

Yumi wan bigfella family!

Friday, July 7th, 2006

Tomorrow we're going to visit our host families for the entire day. Everyone except for me is excited about this. I'm not, because I completely lack the ability to make small talk, and there's no way I can effectively do it in Bislama. I'm also not looking forward to another 6 am day.

The truth is, out of everyone in my group, I was absolutely terrified to meet and spend time with my host family. For most of the participants, the entire first week was spent speculating what our host families would be like.

On Wednesday, most of our families came to the worksite to meet us for the first time. When I met Kathy, I was absolutely filthy and sweaty. It was around noon, and the heat was blistering. "Mi happi tumas to meet yu!" I told her. I didn't know what to say. Small talk is definitely not my fortay. It was obvious that English wasn't her strength either, and while the other families stood around chatting and eagerly acquainting themselves with one another, Kathy and I stood there awkwardly, not sure what to say to one another.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Volunteering in Vanuatu: This is How We Get By

A lot of people have been asking me what we did in our free time.

Personally, I wrote a LOT of lists. Here's an example from my journal:

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006, noon

It's only noon, and there's the distinct possibility I might die. We spent the morning sifting sand from coral, and stacking cinder blocks (728, to be exact) before lifting a rebar structure into a trench. All this in the blistering heat. It's probably about +35 in the sun, and I'm burning. Well, at least I think I am, but I can't quite tell because I'm coated in dirt. Samuel, Jo and Morsen are all having power naps around me right now [ED: Its amazing how quickly you become accustomed to falling asleep on a concrete floor in the middle of the afternoon, while surrounded by other people, in 5 seconds or less.] and a chicken keeps wandering through the kitchen. Also, the rats kept waking me up last night. I might die, but my life is hilarious. Also, Jo pooed. It was a glorious moment.

Wan Bigfella Fundraiser!

Thanks Ryan. I owe you a beer. (Again. In fact, at this point, I owe you an entire night at the Strat.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Nicole vs. the Rats: Vermin in Vanuatu Part 1

We had been living in our new home, nestled in the heart of Lambubu, for less than two nights when we discovered that we weren't the only residents.

"RATS?!" squealed Nicole when we discovered that rats had stolen someone's malaria tablets and stuffed them into Dave's guitar, "We have rats?! Ewwww!"

Nicole, in my opinion, was hands-down the most interesting character in our group. Even at the end of our project, I think everyone was still somewhat mystified and confused by Nicole's decision to join the YCI program, because prior to leaving for Vanuatu, Nicole had never been camping. Not even for one night.*

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Spiders and sharks and centipedes- oh my! Vermin in Vanuatu Part 2

It happened one night when Becca and I were starting in our on third helping of dinner, which was, of course, rice.

We had started cooking over the fire that week, after Tara's sinus infection made cooking with kerosene difficult and insufferable, the fumes causing her to cough harshly. Collecting firewood after work had become a new daily chore, and most of the time we'd only have to walk down the road for about five feet before the community members, with their ingrained knowledge of our every want and need, would send their children to us, their outstretched, eager, little arms burdened with dry sticks and logs. Most nights, we'd also gather kindling and twigs from the surrounding lots.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Weight Loss Plan 2006: Food in Vanuatu

Stranded in Lambubu for a week, our rations were running disturbingly low.

Despite constant re-assurances from our group leaders that we would get off the island somehow (one of those "somehows" at one point was to take a cargo ship* back to Port Vila, however, this hardly fell into the category of calming "reassurances," especially after my vomit-tastic trip to the Malekula). Each day when we packed to leave, thinking it was our last day, we'd later discover that we were staying for just one more day.

By the last day, all we had left to eat were yams.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Arriving in Lambubu Island Time Style

Our first true experience with island time happened the day we were set to leave. We woke up early (not that this was unusual since sleeping in past 7:30 a.m. was a novelty and probably only occurred twice in the entire 6 weeks I was in Vanuatu, which is partially a product of a society operating in accordance with the sun, not with technology) to pack and clean up the Scout Hall in preparation for our departure.

Our supplies and rations were divided according to our groups, and we were set to go. The Emua group left around noon in a van for the north of Efate Island, where they would be planning and executing a Youth Skills Summit. The Lalinda group (Ambrym Island- known for its volcanos) and my group (Malekula Island- known for its cannibalism) headed into town to get some last minute supplies before we boarded the boat that evening. We were eager, excited, and ready to leave the Scout Hall (or as I liked to call it, the "Scat Hole" which is what the name sounds like when you say it with an Australian accent). Knowing that we were on the brink of a life-changing adventure was wearing on our nerves, and to use my favourite phrase, we were ready for action.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Public Service Message

I'm back in Canada settling into my life here in Toronto.

I'll be updating the blog as soon as possible, starting with our first week in Port Vila, and will be updating it all the way up until the end of my trip through Australia. I'm just waiting to get a CD of photos from my travel partner Jo. So be sure to check back soon for updates!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Home Time

I return to Toronto on Monday, August 28th at 7:00 p.m.

Anyone want to pick me up from the airport?

(If I take the shuttle bus back, which is probably what's going to happen, I should be back and reinstated in China by 9:00 pm. See you then.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Seedy Down Under

Jo and I are sitting at Airlie Beach, killing time before we board our boat to go sailing in the Whitsundays. We must have been a little distracted when we were booking our packages though, because upon throughly investigating the information and brochures last night we discovered that the boat we are boarding is billed as "simply romantic" and for "love and romance." I think we're bound to be slightly dissapointed by the romance that the New Horizon promises. After all, we've shared a mosquito net for 6 weeks and a bunk bed for the last 2 weeks. What could possibly be more romantic than that? Some hand-holding is definitely in order, though.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Island time + Rations = Disaster

When we arrived at the pier to catch our boat to Lambubu, we were surrounded by masses of people. As we formed an assembly line to load all our rations and supplies onto the boat (kerosene stoves, food for 4 weeks, shovels, buckets and a disturbingly small amount of toliet paper) Jo started to worry.

"The boat is going to sink," she said. "Where are we all going to sit?"

Jo's fears weren't completely empty. The dock was swarming with people going to the islands, including a group of American Peace Corps. It was definitely a sketchy situation.

In fact, we all did have room to sit, but within 20 minutes of leaving Port Vila's sheltered bay, I started to feel sick. I tried to start up a rousing game of 20 questions to pass the time, but by the time Becca surpassed the 20th question (with her it was more like a game of 35 questions) I had already gone downstairs to vomit over the edge of the boat.

Which is where I spent the next 26 hours.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

More pictures from Vanuatu

I've just realized that my time in Australia is a lot more limited than I initially thought. In accordance with this, a lot of the Vanuatu stories will have to wait until I return to Canada, or until I have a spare moment. In the meantime, here are some more pictures from the construction site.

On the days we mixed concrete, I was always assigned the task of pouring it with a shoddy broken wheelbarrow. This is developing country style construction.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


If you've sent me an e-mail and I haven't replied yet, it's high on my list of priorities right now!

Unfortunatly, laying on the beach in the sun is higher on the list.

The Daily Grind: An International Volunteer's Work Schedule

I must confess that I'm not finding as much time to write about Vanuatu as I thought I would, mainly because my life has been consumed with laying on the beach every day, interspersed with frolicking in the ocean.

My mom requested that I should start off my explaining what exactly I did every day in Vanuatu, so here's a start:

On my first day at work, sitting in the trench, tying wire to rebar. Note the fact that my left arm is absolutely covered in dirt.

Out of the 3 Vanuatu projects that happened in the last month, ours was possibly the most physically and mentally demanding. We were limited by daylight hours, since we didn't have electricity. (It raised a lot of interesting questions for me about how human's biological ciracadian clocks are affected by the use of electric light, but that's a rant for another time.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nimbim Story Teaser

After a month of being forced make such tough decisions as, "Should I wear my dirty skirt today, or my dirtier skirt today?" and, "Should I eat rice for dinner tonight? Or maybe I should have rice for dinner tonight?" and finally, "Should I go to the construction site today? Or should I go to the construction site today?" Jo and I have discovered that our capability to plan or make any sort of commitment is almost nonexistant. So not knowing what else to do, we flew from Sydney to Ballina yesterday.

Right now, I'm sitting in Byron Bay, bikini on, feet freshly pedicured, and a bag full of vital supplies for a day at the beach (sunscreen, sarong, book, journal and music). My life has gone from the rough, to rough only in the most sardonic sense of the word. Last night was spent in Nimbin after a spur of the moment road trip with one Welsh guy, one English guy and one Quebecois guy. We ended up spending the evening with three hippies in their 40s with dreads that reached their tailbones, and with a 18-year-old Aussie freestyle rapper who had just been released from jail that day.*

But that's a story for another time, since the beach is calling to me.
*Don't let this worry you Mom and Dad. I'm still getting my spinach. And that's what really matters.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Black Magic Miracles

Before I start this post, let me clarify two things. First, I'm incrediably emotional right now, prone to tears and fits of bursts of poetic sentimentality at any given moment. Second, my grasp of the English language has greatly detoriated by the constant use of Bislama for communication. So, please bare with me.

After five weeks without electricity, running water*, or any sort of privacy whatsoever, we returned to Port Vila for our debriefing. What had seemed like a tiny town when we initially arrived in Vanuatu seemed like an ever-humming metropolis. As our van drove us from the airport back to the Scouthall, Becca and I cowered in the backseat, covering our eyes. The stimuli was too much to absorb, and we weren't sure where to look. The sight of other white people was shocking, and the glow of electric lights was harsh on our eyes. We had, after all, been living in the middle of the jungle for the previous five weeks, with nothing but the weak glow of kerosene laterns at night.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Gudbye Whitefellas!

This will likely be my last entry for a month. It will also likely be a disjointed and short entry, as I'm using an Internet connection that you'd have to find a time machine to experience in North America. (Seriously, I feel like I'm using dial-up circa 1995. But I'm surrounded by masks and some harpoon-y objects, as well as custom mats*, so I guess it's all good.) My logic on the lack of blog entries is that I'm saving my stories for coffees and late night wine drinking sessions when I come home. I all know you would prefer that anyway.

On Saturday after hiking into the boonies of the suburbs of Sydney and showing up 1/2 an hour late, we met the Australian challengers, and the rest of the Canadian challengers, bringing our group number to 18. The day was filled with a lot of bureaucratic necessity, and therefore not worth writing about.

We arrived to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu on Monday. We were easily the most popular passengers on the plane, and I think our excitement was obvious. (I think the fact that I started doing "the wave" as soon as we saw Efate Island might have given our excitement away.) We were driven in a van to the Scout-Hole, which is our very glamourous accomodations for the week, and I spent the next half hour attempting to put up my mosquito net properly.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Edmonton may have riots, but Sydney has football.

I awoke at 5 a.m. this morning to screaming.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" and "NOOOO!!!!" and finally, the always classic, "GET IT IN THERE!"

I sprung up in bed, terrified, trying to get my bearings. After remembering what hemisphere I was in, I gathered my wits enough to think to myself, "We're being broken into!"

But then I heard another yell. "C'mon mate, you can do it!"

Suddenly, it all became clear; Chloe's roomate had woken up at 4 a.m. to make sure he didn't miss a moment of the Croatia vs. Australia football game. Awesome.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Snow Snorkelling

"Do you live under the snow?"

"No. Just because it's cold doesn't mean there necessarily a lot of snow."

"How cold does it get?"

"In my hometown it can get as cold as minus 40 degrees."

"But, then. . . how do you get water!?"

The 7 a.m. drive from the airport to Chloe's house was a funny one to say the least.

I'm alive and well in Sydney, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. (Bushy-tailed indeed, a product of the humidity.)

And now, my time at the Internet cafe is up.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Greenwich Time Line has nothing on me

After a final trip to Mountain Equipment Co-op to pick up some last minute items (a sleep sheet, because I ran out of time to sew a sheet together before I left Toronto, and a compressible travel pillow) my bags are packed and I'm ready to go.

I find it both terrifying and powerful that my entire life for the next three months (or, if you want to get exact like my mom insists, the next 2 months and 3 weeks) can fit into a bag that is smaller than Courtney's biggest purse.

Whenever I leave for some place, I feel like it should be some sort of monumental event. Like, I feel like I should be mentally preparing myself and thinking horribly cliched thoughts like, "This is the first day of the rest of my life," and scribbling them furiously into my journal.

Monday, June 19, 2006

We're both on my vacation. Mine's just better.

The soles of my feet are cracked, dry, and covered with a thick coat of dirt. Every morning I've been woken up much too early, sticky with sweat and my hair in a tangled mass. I need to do laundry and take a long shower. I can't remember the last time I've eaten a home-cooked meal, and each morning is started with a empty search for a satisfying and nutritious breakfast.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Go a Little Further

“Here’s the double-sized one,” said the clerk at the travel adventure store, “it fits comfortably over two people or two-sleeping bags.”

His gaze was directed at the spreader-type treated mosquito net for malaria-ridden countries.

“Um, but I’m only one person,” I pointed out with a laugh.

“Well, you never know. . .” he trailed off, suggestively grinning at me.

Parasites are sexier than malaria, I thought silently to myself before telling him, “We’re not allowed to fool around with anyone. It’s against the rules.”

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